To encourage development tap into how people learn

By Jayne Jackson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 03/15/2001

As the year draws to a close some of us have to start thinking about how we’re going to use training dollars to develop employees in 2001.

Although courses are often seen as the easiest option for training, they’re not always the best option. Employees need to be encouraged to develop in a variety of ways, and managers must remember that learning goes beyond group discussions and classroom situations. In fact, some people may get far more out of reading a book or participating in on-the-job training than from a classroom environment.

The key to learning is being involved in the learning process.

The key to being involved is in understanding one’s own individual learning style.

This is important not only for employees, but also HR practitioners, who will benefit from understanding how they themselves learn. In addition, HR’s understanding of learning styles will allow trainers to develop programs with learners in mind.

Learning style theory suggests that everyone learns in different ways — and that to maximize learning it’s important to know what a person’s preferred learning style is. When learning something new, some people like listening to “an expert” talk about the information. Others prefer to read about a concept to learn it. Others need to see a demonstration of a concept, or to try it out for themselves.

There are a few things to keep in mind about adult learners. People will:

•engage in learning that helps them deal with change and new situations;

•enjoy learning when they have a need for the skill or knowledge, either personally or professionally;

•need to be able to apply concepts and integrate learning with things that are familiar;

•enjoy self-directed learning; and

•want learning to be personalized, problem-oriented and based on a need for self-direction and personal responsibility.

If HR practitioners consider these things when determining training needs, outcomes will be more successful.

Learning style theory defines three key learning styles:

Visual Learners like to read books and see information displayed in words. They like to see information in the form of charts, diagrams, graphs and flowcharts. They connect with pictures.

Aural Learners prefer to learn or gather information that is spoken or heard. They prefer classroom situations, lectures, discussions and speaking to other employees. They like the opportunity to ask questions.

Kinesthetic Learners like learning by doing. They prefer hands-on practical opportunities related to the training experience.

Trial and error is a preferred approach with practical application being the end-result. Simulations can be done in a classroom situation or during on-the-job practice and experimentation.

Everyone can learn in all three ways, but individuals often have a preference for one approach over the others. By taking advantage of training opportunities that support learning styles, there is a greater chance of success. This doesn’t mean, however, that as a visual learner one shouldn’t get involved in classroom activities or learning by doing. There are lots of grey areas in learning style theory, and although it’s important to get involved in learning opportunities that fit preferred styles, some situations or needs may encourage (or force) the other approaches.

Understanding learning style theory opens up different avenues for personal development and encourages individuals to think about how to focus their learning. HR practitioners can be more creative when putting together development plans because they can look beyond the scope of traditional classroom-based options.

Learning style theory also reminds trainers that learning doesn’t end once a course is finished, once a book has been read or once a discussion group disbands. No matter how people learn, the learning needs to be transferred into real-life job situations. Learning needs to be reinforced quickly and often on the job to ensure that employees retain the information once they return to reality. If staff don’t receive consistent, positive reinforcement from peers and managers, much of their learning may be lost.

Personal growth and development is an important concept that is supported in many organizations. In companies that encourage learning, staff feel valued and respected. They understand that an investment in learning is an investment in their future. If learning is offered in a variety of ways to meet individual needs and to fit personal schedules then staff are more likely to take part in learning. Employees need to see a meaning or purpose on the job for information gathered through the learning opportunities they participate in.

To optimize the learning that’s taking place, HR needs to become partners in learning with employees and managers. Trainers need to find out what’s available, in what format and at what cost.

HR, managers and front-line staff need to work together to ensure that learning opportunities are focused and successful, and that training dollars are well-spent.

Jayne Jackson is the manager, training and development/human resources with publishing firm Carswell. She can be contacted at jayne.jackson@carswell.com.

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